TORONTO — Travellers need expert advice when they’re planning a $25,000 Antarctica cruise. So it’s no surprise that nine out of 10 bookings for Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions – for Antarctica, the Arctic or warmer ports of call in more than 80 countries around the world – come through travel agents.
“Well upwards of 90% of our bookings come through the trade,” says Navin Sawhney, CEO, Ponant USA. With a high-end product like Ponant, and price points to match, “people need an expert to tell them this is the right way to travel.”
So far only a very small fraction of those bookings come from Canada, but with the help of travel agents as well as Vanessa Lee and her company Cruise Strategies, which represents Ponant in Canada, Sawhney is looking to boost volume from this market. “We plan to increase it quite rapidly,” he says, not just for FIT but groups as well.
Lee and her team at Cruise Strategies hosted Sawhney and Theresa Gatta, VP Sales, North America along with trade and consumer media and industry partners at a reception last night at Toronto’s Auberge du Pommier.
Clients who make the move to Ponant will have plenty of ships to choose from in the next few years. The company has no fewer than five new vessels coming on line between now and 2021.
Four new Ponant Explorer Yachts, all sister ships with 92 staterooms each, are on their way this year and next. Scheduled launch dates are June 2018, October 2018, March 2019 and June 2019. ‘Discover Yacht Cruises’, reads the tagline, and the ships deliver, with appropriately luxurious accommodations, high-end amenities from companies like Hermès and Veuve Clicquot.
The four new ships will also deliver a truly unique experience with ‘Blue Eye’, billed as the first multi-sensory underwater lounge, offering spectacular underwater viewing – under the ship’s waterline – from the comfort of a lounge chair.
The Blue Eye lounge will make its debut on Le Lapérouse, followed by Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville. The four new ships will sail in tropical and sub-tropical destinations, everywhere from the Seychelles to Australia to South Africa to the ‘Coral Triangle’, the tropical marine waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Meanwhile in December 2017 Ponant confirmed its order for the very first electric hybrid cruise icebreaker propelled by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). The Ponant Icebreaker “affirms Ponant’s place as the world leader in luxury polar expeditions”, says the company. The new ship, scheduled for delivery in 2021, will have 135 staterooms and will take passengers to never-explored polar destinations including the true geographic North Pole (90 degrees North Latitude), the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea and Peter I Island.
Sawhney says Ponant’s luxury polar expeditions “truly define what Ponant has done to this category.” The company, founded in 1988, embarked on expedition cruising in 1999. “No one had thought of luxury expeditions in such detail,” he said.
The cruise line launched Le Boreal in 2010 and it was an immediate success. “In an environment like the Arctic or Antarctica, you do want an expedition ship with balconies,” says Sawhney. The cruise line has now completed some 400 expeditions in polar regions, he adds.
Ponant’s passengers, not surprisingly, are a discerning group. They’re very well-educated, says Sawhney, typically married, very well-read and well-travelled. “They have moved from sightseeing to sight-doing to sight-being,” he says, adding “they want travel to transform them.”
Ponant is the only French cruise line and appropriately about 40% of its passengers are French speaking. About 30% are from North America and another 15 – 20% are from Australia. Some are from the UK and the rest come from Latin America, continental Europe and Asia. The ships are bilingual and sail all over the world, except to the Galapagos Islands. “We’re proudly French and sailing the Galapagos Islands would mean sailing with the Ecuadorean flag, and we sail with the French flag,” says Sawhney.
Sawhney is particularly excited about a number of just-announced new theme cruises, especially for the Canadian market, where groups are big business.
The theme cruises, dubbed the ‘Quintessential Collection’, include: a gardening cruise in May 2019 led by Holly Shimizu, retired Executive Director of the United States Botanic Garden; a Sicilian Food & Wine Experience in June and July 2019 with Mary Taylor Simeti, food and travel writer for The New York Times; A Musical Odyssey in the Mediterranean in September 2019; and a World Affairs Cruise – Origins of Greek Civilizations in October 2019 with CNN host Fareed Zakaria.
Sawhney notes that interest in expedition cruising is at an all-time high – both with travellers and other cruise lines. “There are a lot of upstarts looking to do expedition cruises,” he says. “Of the 22 new expedition class vessels currently being built, five of those are for Ponant. That shows just how seriously we take this market.”
The price points are appropriate for the luxury market but agents should know that Ponant’s lineup also includes $5,000 cruises. He sums up the Ponant experience: “Everything French, everything elegant, everything superb.”
For more details see ponant.com.